MILLENNIUM ACTRESS. Engaging, metaphysical anime
Millennium Actress is a story of an extraordinary relationship and a fascinating career with the turbulent history of Japan in the background. The master of dreamlike cinema, Satoshi Kon, creates a film four years after the release of Perfect Blue in which he gracefully and acrobatically balances on the border between reality and dream, fact and illusion. Nevertheless, there is not a trace of repetitiveness in either of these films by the Japanese director. Kon transitions from a dark psychological thriller to the realm of an intimate and poignant tale of a fading star of Japanese cinema, who, during her final interview, delves into her memories. Within these memories, the real world and the world of film subtly intertwine.
Ginei Studios, the famous Japanese film studio, goes bankrupt and is demolished. Television journalist Genya Tachibana, after finding its biggest star, Chiyoko Fujiwara, who ended her career 30 years ago, persuades her to give one last major interview. The actress, spending her old age in seclusion away from the hustle and bustle of city life and the glare of the paparazzi, is supposed to share the intricate story of her acting career with the journalist and his cameraman. However, the interview quickly turns into an epic and poignant tale, with a mysterious key at its heart. Mrs. Fujiwara’s guests transform from passive listeners into sudden witnesses, and eventually, active participants in the unfolding events.
All the threads in the intricate story of the woman boil down to one thing – a mysterious man she met in her youth. Once again, in Millennium Actress Satoshi Kon surprises with an innovative, multi-layered narrative style. The main character tells the story of her life through the prism of the roles she played in films. With each subsequent role, with each blinding glare of the spotlight, the tale becomes denser and more elaborate, literally engulfing the two listeners. Journalist Tachibana delves deeper and deeper into the life story of his screen idol, relentlessly pursuing the heart of the narrative. What is most captivating in Millennium Actress is its daring play with convention. The actress’s story is not closed and hermetic but vivid and flexible, as if painted on the spot, from one picture to another. The events, places, and people from her youth that she reminisces about become disturbingly real, as if they have broken free from the shackles of memory and taken control of the real world. Additionally, the director does everything to blur the line between Chiyoko Fujiwara and her screen incarnations. At some point, the film is almost intuitively absorbed. An anecdote from the actress’s youth suddenly turns out to be an incredibly realistic film scene. Another time, a film sequence convincingly reflects the actress’s life drama. As it turns out, all the decisions made by Fujiwara, all the paths she chose, and even the films she acted in had one clear goal. Although, according to the director, catching the rabbit is not a necessity. The most important thing is the pursuit itself.
One cannot overlook the meticulous animation of Millennium Actress. The colorful frames of the film carefully illustrate the lush imagination and memories of the narrator. The realism and credibility of the story presented are also emphasized. Characters, characteristic of this director’s works, are portrayed very authentically. They are not flat but multidimensional, their intentions, motivations, and feelings are understandable and clearly presented, with the thorough animation and rich facial expressions of the drawn characters contributing to this. Furthermore, as mentioned at the beginning, Satoshi Kon’s film traces and illustrates the history of Japan, which becomes a third-tier character in the production – from the time of the samurai, through the turbulent years of war, to the present day, which is an interesting and valuable complement to the story. The plot, which unfolds in sometimes completely different time threads, not only adds to Kon’s beloved intricacy but also highlights the director’s immense skill.
In the overall assessment, Millennium Actress presents itself like a trompe l’œil painting – it creates the illusion of existence and the overlapping of several different dimensions. However, the uniqueness of the film is not solely based on the narrative layer – it is primarily an engaging, metaphysical tale of boundless loyalty and perseverance. Speaking of a work with such an original plot and impressive execution, it is impossible to shake the thought that if it were not an animation from distant Japan but a Hollywood film, Satoshi Kon’s production would be a cult masterpiece, and perhaps even a global hit.